This was a fascinating, and very fun look at the 1997 vintage 20 years on. It followed the very enjoyable 1996 ten years on dinner. Same venue – Medlar – same brief, bring something from the vintage. With the help of Didier the sommelier we had a good line-up well served. All wines were initially served “blind”. It’s always odd “blind” tasting when you know the vintage as its probably the one thing you try to assess first.
Champagne Le Mesnil 1997 Blanc de Blancs, En Magnum kicked us off while we waited for everyone to assemble, a warm evening and not one for rushing. This was fairly obviously Blanc de Blancs as it has a lime like zesty-ness. It certainly belies the age. It had a lovely focus and drive, impressive. Next up was a pair of Champagnes. We had been slightly “worried” that Champagne would be tricky but ended up with three of them. The next pair were Cristal 1997 from Louis Roederer & Salon 1997 Blanc de Blancs – I have never had Salon and Cristal side by side, it works well. These were, from the off, clearly both very high in quality. Initially I thought both were Blanc de Blancs, clearly it was a year for Chardonnay, but over the few minutes that we tasted these the Cristal did have a little more breadth. The Salon maybe just about pipped the pairing, not that it’s a competition, with its focus and zip. A cracking duo.
Now time for a couple of dry whites, this was always going to be a more tricky area as 1997 is generally a low acidity vintage and certainly the vast majority of 1997s have/should have been drunk by now. I’ll take these two separately as they were very different despite coming from the very same village. First was Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon 1997 by Domaine Leflaive from Magnum, this was broad, quite unctuous, not heavy but weighty from full maturity. I was in the northern Rhone initially. It got a slightly mixed reception but stood up well in glass. The next wine, had a familiar feel, I was not alone thinking this could well be Coche-Dury. A whiff of reduction, it was full but zesty with a definite acidity. It wasn’t Coche it was Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Sous le Puits 1997 from Verget. An exceptional surprise, a fabulous wine.
Chambertin Grand Cru Clos de Beze 1997 from Domaine Pierre Damoy was our first red and was as good as it should be, nicely elegant with a hint of orange-rind and a sappy character. I would say there was no point keeping this as it is “there” now. Seemed to be a consensus that it wasn’t quite Grand Cru in quality.
Vosne-romanée 1er cru aux Malconsorts 1997 from Sylvain Cathiard was very sadly corked. We then went to a pair of Americans, firstly Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir 1997 from Kistler which was rich and heady with a core of iron, the fruit showed some warmth and I was tempted to think we might be in the Rhone. Next we were all thrown a curve ball as we discussed which village in Burgundy – Chambolle or Vosne? – the Precious Mountain Pinot Noir 1997 by Williams Selyem, came from. It was a truly delicious wine, just the right amount of ripeness, maturity and poise. Alas the Dominus 1997 was madeirised.
We were then on to what should be my specialist area but I didn’t get either of these as nebbiolo. Langhe Conteisa 1997 from Gaja and Barolo Le Rocche de Falletto 1997 from Bruno Giacosa were both good wines. The Gaja was decadently mature, supple, just softening, more to give but ready. The Giacosa was very primary and not showing quite so much, time needed but appreciably good. The warmth of the vintage in Piedmont clearly slightly masking the poise of nebbiolo.
What followed next was fascinating, in many ways this would be where you would expect the Bordeaux to appear (and interestingly we had no Bordeaux, Rhone, Spain or Tuscany). What we had, courtesy of cunning Mike, was Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 from Santa Rita and then Zapata Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 from Catena Alta. Both these outperformed and confused. The Casa Real showed a tiny bit of eucalyptus then raspberry and had a sweet pure extravagance but without any jammy-ness. The Catena was more savoury with iodine and a slightly more international feel, a little mint, impressive wine. Grange 1997 by Penfolds was our last red and was suitably monolithic, rich and full, quite primary and with a porty fullness, uncompromising might be the word, this is what it should be like.
We had one last wine – Primo Palatum Sauternes 1997 – I was totally unaware of this “producer” but by all accounts they are a sort of Burgundy-style negociant but in Bordeaux. This had a pronounced dirty Oyster aroma which despite how it sounds wasn’t unpleasant, briney with a good bit of sweetness. We missed the opportunity for Port but that can return for the 2000 vintage.
Thanks, as last year, must go to Mike for getting us all together. The 1998 rendition is an exciting prospect all ready. I would hazard a guess than Bordeaux will re-appear next time, along with the Rhone and that the Champagne will be richer with it being a Pinot Noir vintage. All nice “problems” to have…
Some food pics: